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Building professional trust

Elan Schwartz
Elan Schwartz
  • Updated

Trust is the foundation of any relationship. ‘Professional’ trust is necessary for your job search as it helps strengthen your reputation and will make it easier to grow your professional network.  

While networking can seem awkward and difficult, part of what makes it seem hard is that it can feel uncomfortable to ask people for help. But remember, when you network you are not asking for a job, you’re seeking advice, insight, guidance and connections for future opportunities.  

The good news is that professional trust is much easier to build than trust in personal relationships. As your connections grow week by week, you should be looking to establish and maintain professional trust. A group of researchers did some work on how to establish trust in a professional context. 


They’ve turned trust into an equation, which we’ve adapted for you below:

                                             Credibility + Security + Reliability

Professional Trust =           —————————————————




Take this short quiz to determine how you might be doing, then read on to learn more: 

I am on time or early for networking.  Never  Sometimes Always
I send a thank you note after networking.  Never  Sometimes Always
I research someone’s career history and companies before networking/coffee meetings.  Never  Sometimes Always
I have a quiet mind when someone else is speaking so I can really take in their information Never  Sometimes Always
I send updated notes to my network referencing the insight/information from the last time we spoke.  Never  Sometimes Always
I send confirmation emails before a professional meeting  (e.g. networking coffee) to confirm the time and place.  Never  Sometimes Always
I offer help to my network where I can.  Never  Sometimes Always
I follow up on my commitments in a timely manner. I prepare questions in advance of a networking meeting. I make eye contact when others are speaking with me.  Never  Sometimes Always
I express appreciation for others’ time and insight.  Never  Sometimes Always
When I get great advice or insight, I proactively pay it forward to others in my network.  Never  Sometimes Always
I volunteer my time to help other people or causes. I check in regularly on my network without any agenda.  Never  Sometimes Always

If you answered “sometimes” or “never” to any of the above questions, you may be detracting from your professional trust. Don’t worry, there are concrete steps you can take to better establish professional trust through your career search networking.



Digging deeper: what it all means 

You can go a long way to establishing professional trust in one short coffee chat. Three items ADD to professional trust (credibility, security, reliability) and one DETRACTS from it (self-orientation). 

Here’s some more information on professional trust in the context of professional networking: 

Group 440.png Credibility

This is building a sense of trust so that the other person believes that you know what you’re talking expertise in the subject matter is real¹. 

  • Our view is that, in a networking conversation, credibility is established with questions. You can project confidence and expertise by asking intelligent questions. 
  • Prepare thoughtful questions that show you have researched and are curious to learn; don’t just ask what  Google can answer! 
  • Questions should never feel like you’re “drilling” or “quizzing” the other person; keep them open-ended.  Ultimately credibility is grounded in humility - no one knows everything.  
  • Far better to ask thoughtful, well-researched questions than to try and hammer someone with how much you know (especially if you actually aren’t an expert).  
  • If an opportunity comes up in a genuine and relevant way to showcase your expertise you can take it. But let it come naturally through the dialogue. 

Group 385.png Security

This is someone’s sense that they could safely trust you with information and that you won’t use it to embarrass them or in some other unhelpful manner¹. 

  • When you’re looking to establish this quickly – like in the first meeting – a good way to do it is through active listening. 
  • Active listening is about making your own mind quiet while someone else talks.  
  • This is harder than it sounds because we’re constantly thinking about what the other person is saying and what it means to US, or what WE will say next. Try to catch yourself as you do this in conversations, and see if you can bring your attention back to what the other person is saying. 
  • Active listening shows you’re an empathetic person who is likely well trusted. 
  • When someone is speaking when you’re at a coffee chat, be mindful of looking them in the eye, bringing focus and energy to what they’re saying. 
  • You’ll almost always have something great to say next - it’s amazing how listening in this deep way allows you to converse easily and naturally.
  • The person you’re with will start to feel that you’re an empathetic person, and this is the foundation of a sense of security in the relationship.


Group 409.png Reliability

This is pretty straightforward - it’s a sense that you’ll do what you say you’ll do¹. A sense of reliability can be built  quickly, over one coffee chat by: 

  • Confirming your meeting time and place a day or so in advance. 
  • Being on time (or even a bit early). 
  • Coming prepared - show that you’ve thought about the purpose of the meeting. 
  • Sending a thank you email (leverage our email templates to help start you off). 
  • Following through on any commitments you’ve made in the meeting in a timely manner. 
  • We suggest you even follow up a few weeks or a month later with an update showing how you’ve actioned the advice or insight. 


Frame 290.png Self-Orientation

As you’ve seen earlier, this is the only detractor of professional trust. If someone thinks you’re only invested in a  relationship so that it can help YOU, they will struggle to trust you¹. This might seem confusing in the context of a  career search; after all, you need all the advice, insight and opportunities you can get. Here’s how you can showcase that you’re not all about yourself, even when you’re asking for help¹. 

  • Always express appreciation for someone’s time. 
  • As appropriate, communicate that you are grateful that others are helping you so much, and that you one day look forward to paying it forward. Be authentic. 
  • Seek opportunities where you can help your network. While making sure you’re reliable (don’t over-commit),  showcase a willingness to help and follow through. 
  • Some meetings feel more directly relevant than others. But you never know who knows who. NEVER seems distracted or impatient with a meeting that doesn’t feel like it will ‘go anywhere’. Be present. Be genuinely grateful. This is the foundation of a stellar professional network that will serve you throughout your career. 
  • Continue to show appreciation by following up with updates explaining how you’ve put someone’s advice,  insight or connection opportunity into action. Let them know if you’ve had the chance to pay it forward (e.g. “I  told a classmate about the advice you gave on X, it really benefited them too!”). 

  • As relevant, follow up by asking questions about the other person without any agenda. For example, “Hi Joe -  I saw X in the news the other day and thought of you. How’s it going with the big launch you were telling me  about?”


Group 517.pngKey Takeaways 

  1. Professional trust is necessary to build, regardless of whether you’re starting a new career or looking to progress in a current one. 
  2.  Professional trust is easy to build, but it can also be eroded very quickly. 
  3. Three items add to professional trust (credibility, security, reliability) and one detracts from it (self-orientation).
    • Credibility is about building a sense of trust so that the other person believes that you know what you’re talking about. This can be done by asking thoughtful and intelligent questions. If Google can answer it, reconsider asking it.
    • Security is about making someone feel that they can safely trust you with information. Try active listening to help build a sense of security.
    • Reliability is giving the other person a sense that you’ll do what you say you’ll do. This can be built very quickly in one meeting, so make sure you’re on time and you come prepared.
    • Self-orientation means that you’re only interested in building a relationship for your own self-gain. To avoid this, show appreciation for the other person’s time and try to pay it forward when you can.

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